As the minister of a local congregation, which has been worshiping online only since March 15, I have been thinking a lot about the people I serve. What will keep them safe, connected, and well? How can we do our part to flatten the curve, support those in need and in harm’s way, and collaborate with others to build a better world? And I’ve been thinking about when we can be together in person again.
In the last few days, I hear more and more folks talking about when we can “reopen.” I’m troubled that the federal “reopen” commission has not a single doctor or scientist on it. Our decisions about when and how we open things up should be guided by science and public health.
But those decisions also need to be guided by justice, compassion, and concern for human dignity. A core commitment of my faith, and all the world’s religions, is the worth of each person.
In the United States, laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 14th Amendment, and others make clear that we cannot and should not have second-class citizenship for anyone.
This leads to questions.
If we say that you can only go out into the world, shop, attend church, eat out, or even go to work if you test positive for antibodies, then millions of us will be left behind until there is a vaccine. A perverse incentive will be created to “get it and get over it” so you can rejoin the others – costing thousands of more lives.
If we say you can only go out if you are under 60 and without other medical conditions, we create a “Logan’s Run” world of discrimination and exclusion.
If we say you can only go out into the world if you wear a mask, what about people with asthma or COPD who cannot wear masks?
If some people can go “about their business” but others cannot, how we will make sure that those who don’t have antibodies, or are at risk, or have asthma are not discriminated against in employment, schooling, and access to public spaces?
The comments of some on social media, implying that some of these people are expendable, “not worth worrying about,” are morally bankrupt and spiritually terrifying. Everyone is worthy of care and inclusion. No exceptions.
I know we all want to open businesses, restaurants and services. I would love to gather in person with the people I serve soon. But if the cost of that is excluding some from society, that is a cost too high.
I urge our leaders and citizens to be thoughtful about these questions as they consider what to do next. It is not easy to decide, and it is made much worse without a science-led federal approach.
I hope that our mayor, chairman, and governor and federal officials will think and pray deeply about how invitations to reopen can be just for all people.
The Rev. Dr. Matthew Johnson, Unitarian Universalist Church, Rockford